China Correspondent – The Shape of Things to Come

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By TJ Acena, PQ Monthly

This is my last China Correspondent post. My classes are done, my grades are turned in, and I’m packing for the airport. By the time this posts I’ll be back stateside.

If you asked my opinion on if things will get better for LGBTQ people here in China I would say… yes. It wouldn’t sound confident, but I think it’s inevitable. I’ve talked a bit about China over these months, how the differences in culture affect how LGBTQ people are treated. And while I’ve talked about Pride here and hookup apps, there are other good signs. Recently a Chinese man won a lawsuit against an ex-gay clinic and the China Daily (the English language newspaper, which is admittedly a government mouthpiece) did an article on the changing attitudes toward transgender people in China. The thing is, I don’t know that China will see a watershed moment like the Stonewall Riots. I could be wrong, but I just don’t see it. Protest is not really a part of Chinese society, partially by government design obviously, but it seems culturally as well.

What really makes me think that change will come is my students. They’re the children of the growing middle class, they’re tech savvy, and for the most part they’re really interested in America. I know this because despite the Internet firewall, they consume an incredible amount of American television and movies (and NBA games). Modern Family is a favorite show of many of them and they use an app banned by the government to watch it on their phones. I’ve had students gush to me about Mitchell and Cameron, and while back home people might roll their eyes at its easily digestible portrayal of homosexuals, for a lot of kids here it’s one of the first positive portrayals of gay men they’ve seen.

I showed Mean Girls to my classes and when I asked the students to describe the character Damian he was uniformly described as funny, cute, and gay. I taught the students to play the classic middle school game “Two Truths and a Lie” and found out that one of my students was a lesbian. She said it very matter-of-factly. When the Supreme Court ruled on same-sex marriage back home, I heard students talking about how great it was. And as the semester was drawing to a close I threw together a simple class debate—we covered a few different topics, and I inserted gay marriage into it for my own personal interest. Afterward I asked the classes to tell me their opinions on each topic and about 75 percent of each class said they thought China should have gay marriage.

I know this is all anecdotal, but you should know that this growing acceptance of LGBTQ people is here in China, and even though it’s hard to say what the government will do, it feels like an important step forward is happening.